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Opinion: The time has come to develop Northern Mozambique – with Florete Simba

Following last month’s “The Flying Mozambican” OpenTalk interview, I decided to further develop our conversation with Florete Simba.

Florete is what most people define as a self-made-man – after a military career that culminated in his service as a fighter pilot, he went on to “other flights” becoming an entrepreneur, focused on mineral resources and Mozambique’s extractive industry.

Life in northern Mozambique may seem quiet, but it stirs up the entrepreneur’s ideas. The potential of the region is enormous, not only in relation to the raw materials available, but especially with regard to all the development that could be generated from sectors like tourism, real estate and port/shipping activities.

Dinho Lima: Let’s carry on our conversation, putting aside your past and thinking about the future. Most businesses in Mozambique pass through Maputo one way or another. A few years ago, the North of the country was already getting hotter on most people’s radar. With the arrival of Anadarko and other major gas players, do you think the time has come for Cabo Delgado to take the lead in its own development?

Florete Simba: Thank you Dinho, always a pleasure to talk to you. The Cabo Delgado region has always been a favourite destination for tourists who know Mozambique. Despite the great potential, less than 10% of our country’s GDP comes from tourism. It is true that our natural wonders alone cannot drive the tourism sector economy of the whole province; there needs to be a broader structure, supporting the hospitality and gastronomic sector, but also attracting other resources to the region. The arrival of large companies may be what was needed to make Cabo Delgado more independent of tourism, and to further develop the sector as a consequence. In addition to the extractive industries, construction and real estate can greatly contribute to the region’s economy, just to name one of the great alternatives that can change the region’s reality.

Dinho Lima: Even prior to the arrival of large corporation and investors, Districts such as Ibo, Pemba and the Quirimbas national park have always been unique in terms of natural beauties. What do you feel is missing for tourism in that area to make the leap that has long been expected?

Florete Simba: Well, for instance, Tanzania chose to prioritize Zanzibar, which is one of the main competitors of the typical tourism in the region of Cabo Delgado. Mozambique is a great country. Just as our province has immense potential, there are other regions of Mozambique that also arouse tourist interest. The Gorongosa National Park, for example, is the richest reserve in Africa for birdwatchers and birds. The Island of Mozambique is another unique place in the world in terms of history. And even Maputo today has a growing cultural offering, compared to five years ago. In my view, the country will not be able to favour one region over the others. Each province in Mozambique has a lot to offer and will have to develop with its own efforts, seeking the necessary partnerships so that the potential for development can become a practical reality.

Dinho Lima: And how will this be possible? How do you see this developments happening?

Florete Simba: Well, we have the resources; in fact we’ve always had them. It is necessary for people to put their heads to work, to envision the future, and take action and put ideas into practice. It is necessary to develop initiatives that result in a secure business environment for anyone who wants to invest: this is a great first step.

The government has invested in the modernization of social security, the tax sector, finance and immigration. With technology, bureaucracy is being reduced and most business challenges are simplified.

We also need to go back to participating in major world fairs and conferences; Mozambique needs to return to its rightful place in the world’s premier tourism destination maps. There is also the alternative of providing natural resources, which for me should not be an end, but a step, for a future where Mozambique can become a producer nation, adding value to products and no longer just a supplier of raw materials.

Dinho Lima: At the beginning, you spoke about construction and the real estate market. Could you tell us more about your expectations?

Florete Simba: With the arrival of international corporations like Anadarko, Exxon and ENI, clearly the number of available vacancies in the hospitality infrastructure will be insufficient, an in desperate need of expansion. But in addition, housing, commerce, restaurants, supermarkets, hospitals, and schools – the entire infrastructure of the region will need to be expanded. My hope is that this movement will generate development, resources and employment.

Dinho Lima: How about the Port of Pemba, would not it be a great necessity, too?

Florete Simba: In 2013, the Port of Pemba became the country’s first structure designed to handle of oil and natural gas; this is a sign of larger plans to come to the region. The expansion of the Port of Pemba is inevitable: current calculations already account for an immense amount of natural gas in the Rovuma Basin and there are expectations that the reserve will be much larger than the estimates announced.

Dinho Lima: This new awakening of the international interest for Mozambique would be a great opportunity for the generation of jobs. However, local labour may not enough nor qualified to supply this demand. How do you see the Mozambican people included in this scenario of economic growth?

Florete Simba: It is inevitable that the local worker plays a supporting role, in a first moment, since the extractive industry needs highly qualified professionals, in very particular functions. This not only applies to Mozambique, but to any country where a particular sector has been asleep or inexistent. I read that in Brazil, for example, the “Atlântico Sul” Shipyard employed many young Asians and Brazilians who were already retired – after almost 30 years of a hiatus in the production of ships in the country.

It is important that the actions of these large groups also leave a legacy of development for Mozambique and its people. With growing demand for specialized labour, educational entities must participate and seize the moment, offering courses in line with the opportunities that will arise. Foreign groups themselves will certainly be responsible for investing in local workers, more accustomed to the country’s culture, climate and terrain.

Dinho Lima: If you had to bet, would you choose tourism, extractives, or real estate?

Florete Simba: Choosing between one of them is to condemn everyone. The question itself already carries part of the answer: these sectors are complementary. Mineral resources will move both business and conventional tourism; that the demands new developments in the region which will jump start the real estate sector; the builders will be able to enter into partnerships with hotels and offer housing to the new workers who will remain in the region. All these elements combined form a business ecosystem where everyone can go out and win.

Dinho Lima: With all the optimism shown in your answers, would you say that the future of the country points to the North?

Florete Simba: I’d rather not talk about the future, but about the present. Opportunities are here, ahead of us. I live in Pemba, a place blessed by nature in many ways. There is no way to walk through those landscapes without thinking about the potential of the region. Like me, there are other entrepreneurs joining forces for the development of Pemba, Cabo Delgado. This optimism comes from the realization that we have already passed the stage of thinking about the future: we are working today, for this future that is so much talked about.

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